Sankey joins call for change in college athletics oversight

Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
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HOOVER, Ala. – Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey echoed the NCAA president’s call for potential changes in how college athletics are governed Monday, though he did not endorse a breakaway by the five most powerful leagues.

Sankey spoke about the need for change to open SEC Media Days, less than a week after NCAA President Mark Emmert said it’s time to consider decentralizing and deregulating college sports in a shifting of the traditional power structure.

Emmert’s stance, Sankey said, “does speak to we’re going to have to administer this differently” but not necessarily formally separating Power Five conferences from the pack.

“Yet I think people are going to be asking that question of me,” Sankey said. “I think within our programs people will ask that question of me. I think nationally people will ask that question of me. But it doesn’t predict that kind of outcome at this point.”

The powerhouse SEC and the rest of the college football are preparing for a fall season amid one of the most tulmultuous periods in college sports. Aside from the heavy impacts of the pandemic, the landscape has clearly changed with a Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA last month in an antitrust case related to caps on education-related compensation.

And as of this month, athletes no longer have to worry about many NCAA, school and conference rules that had prohibited them from earning money off their fame for things such as online endorsements, sponsorship deals and personal appearances. Athletes have begun signing deals big and small to profit off so-called name, image and likeness deals from coast to coast, in some cases protected by state laws barring the NCAA from interfering.

Before his session here, Florida coach Dan Mullen met with his team Monday on NIL, saying it was great for players but an issue that needs education for them and coaches alike.

“It’s a learning curve, obviously,” Mullen said. “You’re looking at the state law that we have in Florida, and any time you’re adapting to a new law within the state and a new law that directly affected our football program, there’s a big learning curve.”

Schools in other states have been instructed to build their own NIL guidelines. Sankey said “there’s not a high level of oversight” within state legislation.

“Yeah, there are businesses that are well intentioned that will support young people, but outside our league at different levels, I’ve heard of young people walking into compliance offices with contracts that say pay so-and-so $5,000,” the SEC commissioner said. “They’ll create your brand and your website, or $10,000, or $15,000. That’s not this one-sided flow of money that everyone expects. So how do we oversee this properly?”

That may require federal legislation from Congress, in some regards.

“I don’t know if we can resolve every one of (the issues) through federal legislation, nor, given the level of care, do I think every element needs to be regulated,” Sankey said. “I do think every element needs to be understood.”

Sankey said he was skeptical that just getting voices from every league will lead to a solution, considering the huge differences in situations financially and competitively. He also isn’t convinced that more aggressive punishment for NCAA rules violation is the solution, but he did call for more timely resolutions in enforcement cases.

“I think some high-level thought focused on specific elements is at the core of this, and we can add, but we’re not going to solve every problem and be able to legislate college athletics programs through the NCAA manual,” he said. “We can govern some aspects, but 450 pages seems less relevant today than it ever has before.”

Watson, Troy win Sun Belt title over Coastal Carolina, 45-26

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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TROY, Ala. – Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.

Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory – their 10th straight – over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.

“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.

The early domination didn’t last, but it was enough.

The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall‘s first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy’s first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.

A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.

“That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here,” Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they’re paying for that.”

By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”

Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae’ Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.

Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.

“I saw the replay and I was like, `Holy crap,”‘ Watson said.

DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.

Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn’t lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.

“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. “These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot.”

McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.

“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.

The momentum didn’t last.

T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina’s 10 to set up a touchdown.

The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.

Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell’s future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”

TAKEAWAY

Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy’s running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.

Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.

SLOW DRIVE

The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn’t go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their bowl destinations.

Finn, Stuart lead Toledo to first MAC title since 2017

Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
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DETROIT – Dequan Finn passed for a touchdown and rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries as Toledo captured its first Mid-American Conference championship since 2017 by defeating Ohio 17-7 on Saturday afternoon.

Finn completed 16 of 25 passes for 154 yards. Jacquez Stuart rushed for 93 yards on nine carries, including a 29-yard touchdown. Micah Kelly added 53 rushing yards for the Rockets (8-5), who lost their last two conference games.

“We’ve been through a lot the whole year,” Finn said. “It’s been a rollercoaster for us. Up and down, fought through adversity and had some rough patches. But ultimately, we stayed together as one.”

Toledo is headed to a bowl game but since the MAC doesn’t have a postseason pecking order, its destination is unknown. The Arizona, Idaho Potato and Quick Lane bowls — the latter also at Detroit’s Ford Field — are the most likely possibilities.

“This is everybody’s goal,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said of the conference championship. “This is what everybody wants to do. This is where everybody says they’re going to be. It’s one thing to get there. It’s another to win it.”

Sieh Bangura rushed for 56 yards on 20 carries and the lone touchdown for the Bobcats (9-4), whose seven-game winning streak was snapped. CJ Harris completed 17 of 31 passes for 163 yards and was intercepted once.

Harris was making his second start since MAC Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ohio is 0-5 in the MAC title game.

“My heart hurts for our football team,” coach Tim Albin said. “This has been about our journey, not a destination. I boldly said on MAC (preseason) media day I thought we could make a championship run. That’s what we did and we came up short.”

The Rockets led 10-7 at halftime.

They drove 75 yards after the opening kickoff with Stuart scoring on his 29-yard run up the middle.

“Very efficient,” Candle said of first possession. “That kind of built some confidence to play efficient offense the rest of the way.”

Ohio tied it on Bangura’s 2-yard run midway through the second quarter, finishing off an 84-yard drive.

Toledo’s Thomas Cluckey kicked a 44-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half.

The Rockets drove to the Bobcats’ 10 midway through the third quarter but passed up a field goal attempt and turned the ball over on downs.

Finn’s 16-yard scoring pass to DeMeer Blankumsee completed a methodical 16-play, 90-yard drive that gave Toledo a 17-7 lead with 10:36 remaining.

Ohio was limited to 262 yards of total offense.

“Their front seven controlled it, particularly in the second half,” Albin said. “We had trouble running the ball in between the tackles and it made us one-dimensional.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Toledo is now 4-3 in the MAC title game, with its previous championships coming in 2001, ’04 and ’17. Ohio’s long drought without a conference championship continued. The Bobcats haven’t won a MAC championship since 1968.

UP NEXT

Both teams are headed to bowl games TBD on Sunday. Toledo is bowl eligible for the 13th straight season.